LeBron James reveals how Erik Spoelstra unlocked the Big 3 Miami Heat and changed the NBA

"Spo is the reason why we were a better team."
Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat - Game Four
Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat - Game Four / Marc Serota/GettyImages

LeBron James has long given credit to the Miami Heat and Erik Spoelstra for helping him win his first NBA championship in 2012. On a recent podcast, he went into detail about how Spoelstra pushed the team to avenge their 2011 Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

"Spo is the reason why we were a better team,” James told JJ Redick on the “Mind the Game” podcast. “And our team was more assembled properly.”

That Spoelstra spent part of the 2011 summer with former Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly has been reported, and James credits what Spoelstra learned with transforming Miami’s offense and moving Chris Bosh to center.

It can be argued that the lessons Erik Spoelstra brought back from Oregon in 2011 not only changed the Big 3 Miami Heat, but also the NBA.

“When we lost to Dallas he went to Oregon and hung out with Chip Kelly and learned the spread offense and tried to figure out if he could translate that to basketball,” James said.

“When he came back to us, he knew for us to reach our potential, one, I had to be f—ing 10-times better than I was in June in the Finals,” James continued. “And Chris Bosh had to go to the five. He had to start working on his corner 3.”

Indeed, it was Bosh moving from power forward to center that was the biggest change to the Heat and led to two straight championships and three more Finals appearances. James also went on to be named MVP in each of the next two seasons. In 2012-13, James unlocked new levels of efficiency and his True Shooting reached 64% for the first time in his career in part because he had more space in the paint.

“It unlocked the slot cuts. It unlocked exactly what myself and D-Wade thrive on,” James said. “It unlocked so much for our offense.”

Not only did Spoelstra made the adjustment of taking a traditional center off the floor, he also tweaked how his big men played in transition. Centers were conditioned to run down the middle of the court and make themselves available for lob dunks on the break. Spoelstra told them to get out of the way and let James and Wade do the rim-attacking.

James shared that when training camp began in 2011, Spoelstra taped off the “mack truck lane” – the painted area of court between the two blocks – and told his bigs that they weren’t allowed to cross into that space in transition. That space was for James and Wade.

The lessons Spoelstra brought back from Oregon not only fueled the greatest stretch in Heat history, but it also influenced the future of the NBA and the rest of James' career.

Since Bosh moved to center, James has pushed to play with a floor-spacing five with the Cleveland Cavaliers (who traded to No. 1 pick for Kevin Love in 2014), and in Los Angeles, (where the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis a year after James signed with the team in 2018).

On a larger scale, bigs running to the corners instead of to the rim in transition has become such common practice in the league that now it’s almost surprising to see a big man run in front of a sprinting ball-handler. 

A lot of this stuff can be considered the foundation of what the Golden State Warriors – who defeated LeBron’s Cavaliers three times in the Finals – did to establish a dynasty.

Is Spoelstra one of the most influential coaches in the NBA? According to James, there is no doubt.

“Spo," James said, "he’s that d— good.”